The remote storage and processing trend commonly known as Cloud Computing i spreading to the the gaming sector with OnLive. Andrew Wooden takes a look at the potentially industry-shaking initiative...
Ever since the late '80s, PCs have been in competition with dedicated video games consoles for gamers' time and money. The rivalry has spread across technological generations – early Pentium 486-powered incarnations of the PC battled with the likes of the Sega Mega Drive and the SNES, while modern quad core, dual graphics cardarmed behemoths are currently brawling with the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii.
While many console enthusiasts go so far as to claim the PC is dead as a gaming platform (an assertion that has been made and dismissed a number of times over the past two decades), those in the PC gaming camp insist it is still the chief hotbed of innovation and ultimately the best place to play any new games. Now, it seems, a whole new way of playing games is just around the corner.
A THIRD WAY
These new systems are heavily rooted in the realm of Cloud Computing, and probably the most prominent is OnLive. In much the same way initiatives from the likes of Google and IBM offer to store programs and data on a remote server, accessible from a PC anywhere on the planet, these new gaming systems facilitate the streaming of gaming content onto the user's TV screen or computer monitor, with all the processing and data crunching done on a remote gaming hub. This means actually owning a console or a high spec PC may not be necessary at all. You wouldn't even need to own a copy of the software.
IMPACT ON THE MARKET
Many of the details are still sketchy. What is obvious is that it would rely on high bandwidth internet connections. At least 5MB connections will be required for high-quality visuals, though standard definition can apparently be managed on 1.5MB connections.
The most interesting thing for the PC market is that the system can even potentially be used with low priced netbooks – since it makes expensive hardware requirements redundant. If such a system were to become pervasive, it would be a rival to vendors, retailers and distributors that make their bread and butter on high-end components and gaming rigs. The same thing has been said of the video games retail sector, which equally would not welcome a system that negates console and box game sales.
One hardware vendor that may be more open to the prospect is Apple. PC fans have long argued that Macs don't have decent, widespread gaming capabilities. Since OnLive is compatible with Mac hardware, this may make more games available to Mac owners.
As mentioned, the whole system lives or dies on service providers' ability to provide stability for the data streaming. Sceptics claim the UK's internet infrastructure won't be able to sustain OnLive on a large enough scale to make it commercially viable. Others have thrown their support behind it – including big-name game publishers such as EA, Take-Two, Ubisoft and Eidos.
The potential for these services is huge and there will be many in the PC industry watching very closely.